Love Letter: Ivy

Ivy, my sweetest and most precious girl,

I could not begin to tell you what we were going through when we heard about you: death of my father, my grandmother, your Momma’s grandfather, and the passing away of your sister, Olivia.

These storms and the pains that we were going through in our own heart and souls tested the mettle of your Momma and Papa’s marriage and relationship and shook the foundation of our family to the bedrock.

Before we knew of you, it was dark. Joy was fought for and sometimes never won.

By announcing you, God reminded us that He is not far yet closer than a whisper. He promises hold infinitely true: eternal past, present and for the eternal future. He revealed that He has infinite mercy for us. He put on the most powerful display that we are indeed His kids and He is our Father in heaven. 1

He sustained us through your first three months in Momma’s tummy when we were so anxious about you making it since it wasn’t even a year ago that we lost your sister during the same trimester.

But even through the first half of you growing in the womb, your Momma never fell ill. Never got sick. Never got weak. With all of your brothers and sisters, well, it was a different story. We thought for sure your Mom would be too sick to even get out of bed or keep any food or water down. Nope. She was alive, happy, and strong. God is so good He heals and restores.

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Not only does He heals and restores the body but He went to work on my soul and our relationship. He began the work to heal my mind, heart, and soul and did the same for your Mom. In that, he gave confidence and peace to our family when there was none before.

And just like your brother, Eli, you were strong. Kicky and squirmy. And just like your Bubba, you stayed in your Mom weeks past what we thought was your due date. Smh. That might have been a mere indication—maybe even a prophecy—that you two were to be as thick as thieves. And by the Bub’s sweetness on you, I say that indication is coming to past.

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But no matter how late you were, we knew that you couldn’t stay in your Mom’s tummy forever :) We knew you would get here. We knew we would be holding you soon.

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And just like the pregnancy, your arrival was just as sweet. You woke us up at 3 am. It was time. Calls to your midwife, Lynette, were made. Texts to our family and friends were sent. Your Ganna, Amanda Panda, and Alisa Pizza were on their way to help with everything.

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Unlike the Bubs, we were able to take our time preparing our room for your arrival. No rush. No fuss. Breakfast made. Coffee poured. Siblings chilling.

And then you arrived. I was so ready to catch you just like I did before with Eli but your Momma didn’t want me to leave her side. I looked at her and was overwhelmed by her powerful love and gracious heart and breathtaking beauty. I thought about the incredible struggle and pain she felt in our marriage and in our lives to this point and we are still together. I decided I wasn’t going to leave her side. Not now. Not never.

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Besides, Lynette was a pro. You were going to be in great hands until you could get to your Momma.

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The moment you arrived: it was all the joy. The happiness. The sweet relief. The bliss. It was everything I could ever feel in one moment in time. I felt like cheering and yelling to celebrate your life and everything that the Lord has done in us and for us.

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And I couldn’t stop smiling. My cheeks hurt because my grin was ear to ear.

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Unlike your brother’s arrival, which was fast and furious, yours was what at one time what I called, “normal”, but that’s not it. Looking back, your birth was just like everything else your announcement brought: peace, calm, and joy.

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And your Momma. She never looked as beautiful as she did when she was able to hold you for the first time. She was all the love and joy and happiness and gladness that her little heart could hold and being poured out on you.

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I remember her cheeks and my cheeks were streaming with tears as I leaned over and kissed her deeply. I remember touching her face and looking into her gorgeous blue eyes and thinking to myself, “We made it!” God is so dang good to us.

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In the midst of an incredible storm in our lives, God sends you here. In so many ways, you are God’s mercy and healing for your Momma. You are God’s peace and restoration for our family. You are my prettiest and a joyful reminder that God is so mindful of me and He loves me so much.

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That’s why I kiss you with my very prickly lips a hundred times a day. That is why I dive my nose into your neck smelling your sweet baby smells. That’s why I don’t want our conversations to end. You are the best reminder of who God is and what he has done for us.

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I love you, my most gorgeous girl. You are my sweetest. My sweetest sweet. My Happiest Girl. My yin to Bub’s yang.

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I will always love you. I will always protect you. I will be there to make you laugh and hold you tight when you cry. And I will fight for you, and us, and we, and me until my very last breath.

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You mean the world to me. I thank God that you are a part of our lives forever.

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I love you, Sweet Girl

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Love for life,

Papa

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Notes:

  1. Hosea 2:14-23

Love Letter: Amber

holdingMy loveliest Amber,

I love you so very much. I have so many words to write and not enough space to write them all.  But write these words, I will and I will start now.

Your beauty takes my breath away. But you already knew that from the first time I saw you. In that moment I was both stunned and quickened. I knew I had to be with you. I knew I had to desperately and quickly get to know this person who has walked into my life. Remember that moment I went up and offered to get you coffee? In that quick second, I was trying to figure out how to ask you out for dinner. True story. I had to be around you. I had to spend as much time as you will give me just in case I didn’t get to see you again. So asking you out to dinner immediately afterwards was a bit quick and forward but I had to risk it. I had to be with you.  Thank you for saying “Yes” to coffee.

At every turn in our little relationship, I kept asking and for some unknown reason, you kept saying “Yes” until you said “I do”. I have a hard time explaining why that amazes me. The best way I could come up with this time recently where we were dancing and I became overwhelmed at this one singular fact: no one but no one has loved me like you do. There isn’t even a close second place. I thought I knew what it was liked to be love but weirdly enough, that doesn’t match up with what I see in God. Yet, in this time that we have been together, I see how you love me and my little bitty Bible brain keeps confirming, “Ah yes…” over and over again. You love me incredibly. You love me big. You love me more even when my heart doesn’t fully trust you. You love me more when you work with me to see where the root lays in my heart. You love me better because you keep working at my heart that doesn’t love you well at times. By God’s power, you love me. Thank you for growing my heart.

Your beautiful big brain of yours is the perfect helper, the perfect partner, and the perfect opponent for my brain. I came into this marriage with a thousand theories and you have systematically challenged every single one of them. Of all the books I have read, all the hours of studying, the volumes of pages I have written, you have had the greatest influence on how I think and what I know. My doctrine, theology, philosophy, and anthropology feel sharp because you challenge me to think through it all. It was almost as though God knew what he was doing in matching up my heart and my mind. For my soul, he gave me the greatest gift on this earth: you. I love how incredibly smart you are. I love how God has blessed with you such immense amount of wisdom. Thank you for challenging me.

Your soul: I love as well. I love how you love music more than me more than I love music. I love how you respond to the beat, to the strings, to the track, and to the lyrics. Nothing is wasted in a song when it hits your ears. I thought I love music especially when I own 100,000 songs. But I admire your love for music. Thank you for sharing that gift with me.

Amber, it seems to me that you have all the incredible gifts. You can speak. You can prophesy. You can bring encouragement. You can shepherd. You can counsel. You can rightfully and Biblically discern. All of these things are in you because you, my beautiful wife, have the fullness of the Spirit within you. I don’t see you chasing after this event or this speaker or this ritual or this class trying to get more of the Spirit. What I see is that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you and you go and walk in the Spirit. I never heard you say, “I need more of the Spirit.” What I see you do is being led by the Spirit. You walk in Him as though the Spirit is the Infinite God who gives infinite might to complete the good works that he has laid before you. I preach and teach this but I don’t walk in it perfectly. But you are my gracious and wonderful example of what Paul lays out in Romans 8. When I write/teach/preach my commentary/devotion/book/sermon on Romans, you will be the example I will get to use. Thank you for being the constant example of what it means to be a son of God.

Babe, this letter falls super short of all the things I wanna say. Ugh. Writing is freaking hard.

But I say that to say, I love you baby. I love you now; I am in love with you.

I love you so much I won’t even quote an R&B song.

You know I love you for life because your love is what I need.

And you also know I will give all my love to you and if you need me, baby, I’ll come running only to you.

It is so great that you and I are one after all. You know that our love is so strong. You and I will never stop. You and I will reach the top.

Just know that we have only just begun and the romance is not over.

Whatever it takes to make you happy, baby

Whatever it takes to make you smile

Whatever it takes to make you feel good, baby

I’ll be around

I feel my soul dancing. I feel my soul moving. I feel my soul grooving to the rhythm that keeps beating out your name.

I am ready to love you forever. Hey lover now, come love me forever more.

I love you, Amber. A million times more. I love you.

 

Love,

Joseph

Love Letter: Griffen

My wisest Griffen,

griff-murricaKnowing you has been one of the greatest honors of my life. It is pure joy being with you, getting to raise you, being in family with you, and getting the chance to love you. In more ways than I could possibly count, you are the best parts of me (and we are not even blood related). I am smart but you are smarter. I have some wisdom but you are wiser. I can think but you are better at thinking.

You are a genius. There is no denying that. What I am the most eager to see is how you will use your brilliant mind for the glory of God. Griffen, you were born into this world, this country, this philosophical mindset of Evangelicalism, and this Christian sub-culture where it is deeply discouraged to think and ponder the deep things of all truths. That boggles the mind since all truths come from God, all matter is held together by the mind of Jesus Christ, and the whole earth is filled with his glory. Why should we battle against the intellect when all truths come from God alone?

In the words of Augustine, “Love God and do what you want.” So, love God and do just that: Politician, Scientist, Philosopher, Theologian, Programmer, Engineer, and/or Professor. Any revelations will come from God. He alone will reveal those things to you. That is why in all spheres of knowledge, He alone is glorious. Since you have access to the fountainhead of all truth through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing you cannot discover.

But no matter what you do, I charge you to think through on all deep things of God. You don’t have to settle for my faith or your Mom’s faith. God has gifted you to think well. You might run into some notions or some Scriptures that might challenge your assumptions. Pray for the Holy Spirit and push through. Don’t settle. No other religion other than Christianity that works itself out logically and rationally. You might face Atheist and Agnostic claims that the Bible contradicts itself. But you would have thought those things through and with great humility, challenge naysayers to complete their thinking and not to give up simply because they arrived at a place where they are comfortable.

This might sound like a great weight. I expect great things from you not because you can but because you will get to depend on the strength of the Lord to do the work He has laid out for you. But work it will be. This work will not necessarily be easy. I promise you that the more work you put into what you like and Whom you love, the more you will get out of it. You know I am not referring to riches or accolades. I speak on the glory of God.

Griffen, you are a man. I charge you like a man. I speak to you as a man. I bless you as a man. Now you know the weight of responsibility. Now you are starting to know what it is like to care for others and love others. Please understand that I do not expect perfection because perfection is of God alone and Jesus Christ completely his life perfectly for you. You might fail but God will lift you up and you get to start again. That is called grace and we are all dependent upon it—

Thank you for your incredibly wisdom and maturity. Thank you and praise God.

Griffen, I love you so much. I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life getting to see what God has in store for you and to get to know you better.

I love you, brother.

Sincerely,

Your Papa Joe.

Love Letter: Yusef

2012-12-26 19.01.46My incredible Yusef,

You are my first child. You are my first born. You are my first son. And for a decade, you were my only kid.

I have been always quick to tell you how much of a father I was not to you when you were a baby but I have never gone into too many details. When you were younger, oh, I was around. I never left to go anywhere. I didn’t abandon you but that doesn’t mean I was with you. I always thought my stuff and my time was more important than you and your mom—stuff like World of Warcraft, watching sports, or feeding into my addiction of pornography. Furthermore, I treated your mom like crap. I didn’t love her. I didn’t respect her. I didn’t love her like a husband should have. I didn’t love you like a good father should have.

You received all this bullshit teaching as soon as you were born. Till this day, I am utterly confused on why the God of the heavens would give me not only a child but an incredible, awesome, little baby boy. In fact, when you were born, I was still working in pornography. That might not blow your mind now but when you figure it out; you tell me why that makes sense.

Yet, if there was any case that God’s ways are higher than our ways and what he sees is infinitely more, nay perfectly, more than what we see, then our testimonies would be the premiere example. God saw fit to give me to you knowing perfectly well I was going to mess it all up.

But God didn’t stop there. He was continuously with me and with you.

When you were around two years old, God started the relentless, active, powerful pursuit of my heart and soul. He gave me a job where I had to work with a man named Christopher Haun who started sharing the love of God with me. I thought I was saved because I said a prayer when I was eight years old. But I did not know nor love God. Chris started planting ideas into my mind on the deep things of God—thoughts that I couldn’t let go. Then when you were about four years old, your God sovereignly and graciously moved me to a job where I worked with Court Simas and Eric Patrick. I tell people I was a Christian but I was not. Court and Eric knew better and they began praying for me and sharing the gospel with me.

In April of 2007, God saved your daddy. He took away my cold, hardened heart of granite and gave me his soft, tender heart of love.

Then I remember, not soon after, the day that you were saved. We were driving back from your house to my apartment in Dallas (where I lived close to my friend Sophia). We were stuck in the middle of traffic going from 121 to 635 east. In the middle of going nowhere fast, you asked me from the backseat, “Dad, am I good?”

That was the hardest question I ever had to answer. On the one hand, you were a great kid. You never got in trouble. You have gotten two spankings in your life. You nearly always behaved. You were always kind and wonderful. I could have said, “Of course you are” and that would have been the end of that. However, that would not have been the truth. You were my son and I could not hold the truth from you. With sadness welling up in my eyes, I calmly looked back and replied, “None of us are good, Yusef. We have all fought against God. We have all made mistakes. We are not perfect. We are not good. And because we are not good, we are going to die. Because of our mistakes, we are going to be punished by God forever.”

Within a few seconds, you cried out, “I don’t want to be bad! I want to be good! How can I be good?” With my heart in my throat and my face hot with tears, I told you, “Then let me tell you about the God who makes us good so that we can be with him forever.”

That is when I shared the gospel of Christ with you. It was in the moment that you believed in and trusted in God.

God has been magnificent. He saved your Grandpa. He saved your Daddy. He saved you. Never forget what God has done in your life.

Yusef, I love you so much. I cannot believe I get to be your Dad. I can’t wait to meet the man of God that you will be soon.

What makes you incredible is the tenderness and the softness of your heart.  Not only do you feel emotions well but you receive teaching well.  Some people might have a hard heart against what God has to say but He has given you His heart and it shows. But because your heart is soft, that doesn’t mean you are always aware of the people around you. I know you grew up an only kid with me as the only one you needed attention from. But now God has overwhelmingly blessed you with a stepmom and tons of brothers and sisters. Your soft heart is ready to love more. If you want to love more, pay more attention to the people around you rather than yourself. I call this out in you because tenderness and compassion for others is what makes a man—not selfishness and focusing on yourself.

Your soft heart is already putting to use with your increased boldness in proclaiming the gospel of God. Son, you will never know how proud you make me when you talk about the gospel and your unflinching instinct to share with strangers and the people closest to you like your mother. You are not scared. You are courageous. You proclaim the gospel. Here is the absolute, unbreakable, unchangeable truth of the gospel. One, it is the power of God in salvation for those who believe. (Romans 1:16) Two, in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith as it is written, “the righteous shall live by faith”. (Romans 1:17 cf. Habakkuk 2:4) Three, when the word of God goes out, it will not return without power—meaning that the word of God will accomplish what God wants to accomplish. (Isaiah 55:10-11) Fourth, the only way people receive faith to believe in God is by hearing and hearing through the word of God. (Romans 10:17) What are you going to do? Fail? Lose? Not succeed? You can’t fail. You can’t lose. You cannot not succeed when you share the gospel of God. Want to know a secret? You want to win all the time? You want to succeed 100% of the time? Plain and simple, share the gospel of God. Keep sharing and share some more. Not just words, son, but devote your life, time, money and love to people around you. By what you say and do, people will know your love for them. When they do, you will have that amazing moment in time to tell them why you do love them so and how can you love them so much. Answer: because of the love of God for them.

This is my life. This is my calling. “Preach the gospel, die, and then be forgotten.” Likewise, whatever God has called my kids into, he is good and I will forever praise His good name. As your Dad, it is my job to equip you as a saint for the work of the ministry. Whatever you might do with your life, you will be fully equipped to share the gospel. Whatever you might do with your life, glorify God and love one another.

Yusef, my son, I love you. I am always here for you. I am always your Dad. I am always your buddy.

Go and see the glory of God.

 

From your proud Pops,

Joseph

Love Letter: Gabe

gabe-tom_pettyMy great Gabriel,

You know what I love about you? You are completely different compared to your other siblings. You are nothing like your brothers and sisters. Heck, you are nothing like any person I have ever met.

First and foremost, you are marked with intense amount of passion. For art and singing, I could talk on end about that but that is not what I am talking about. What I do know, see and feel every single day is your passion to love and to give love. It is amazing to see you develop the myriad of ways to love your siblings, your mom and even me.

You continuously endlessly play chase with Emma.

You instantaneously comfort Grace when she is hurt.

I love how you are the first to run in from another part of the house just to hug Yusef when he gets home.

I am privy to the hundreds of really late night chats with your big brother Griff.

Then you lovingly, tenderly, sweetly hold Elijah with all the love that a person could possibly hold.

You snuggle and cuddle with your Mom as tightly as you can.

You engage, talk, go deep, hug, and receive kisses from me.

You love us. You love each and every one of us. And you do so passionately.

Every time I see you love, I cannot help and be reminded on how much Jesus Christ each and every one of us. You know all of that passion and all of that love that you have in your heart and you just gotta get out? That comes from Jesus. You love like Jesus. Guess what? If you love like Jesus, just think how much more Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you more than you can possibly imagine. He will always there to heal any of your hurts. He is there when you have a crappy day. He always there to talk with you and hear what you have to say.

His love is infinitely there for you. He will always love you. He will never love you less. He cannot turn away from you. He cannot withhold his love from you.

I also love the way you can express yourself and your emotions. Truth be told, this thing that you so easily do—tell someone on how you feel and what is going on in your heart—is something that I don’t do really well. It was because of you and the example that you set inspired me to work on and grow in sharing what’s going on in my heart. You are one of the greatest examples that I have in seeing the incredible strength in a person and in a relationship that comes with being truly vulnerable with one another. Every time I get scared about sharing my feelings, I think about how you do it, and then I get the courage to share how I feel. Every time I do share my feelings, I only get love in return. Thank you for showing me how to be honest with others.

Your passion, your love, your eloquence, your vulnerability, your eye for heart and your amazing singing voice—all that and so much more makes you second to no one on this earth. You are an amazing person.

That said, I can’t stop telling others on how awesome you are and how I get to know you, live life with you, help raise you, and getting to see you grow up into a wonderful passionate young man. I love getting to speak to your Mom about your life now and your life in the future. I am so thrilled that I get to see all of your life.

I am your number one fan, Gabe. I will always have your back. I will always be your friend. I will always be here for you. I will always pray over you for God to bless you, keep you, shower his grace upon you, give you peace and love you. You are always on my heart and mind.

I love you, Gabe. I love you so much. Thank you for loving me the way that only you can.

 

From your truly honored stepfather,

Joe

Love Letter: Emma

emma-skatingMy beautiful Emma,

You are far more than what people see. Or as the saying goes, you are more than the sum of your parts. When people see you, they may see only your incredible beauty. And as wonderful as your beauty may be, your mind, heart and soul runs so much deeper.

This much I know of you: You are a scholar of the highest rank. Honestly, you are every bit the academic that I wish was. To try to describe just how smart you really are fails in that attempt. To that end, whatever knowledge, intellect, and wisdom that God has given me; they are yours for the taking. I want to do whatever it takes to flame that gift of God inside of your heart—a gift of knowledge and intelligence. Whatever I can do so that you can love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, I will do so. Just because of your incredible mind, I am so honored and privileged to have known you.

Much more than that, from the moment I met you, the one thing you have given me were your warm affections and your desire to make me feel like I belong to you. Anything that we had in common, you were so quick to bring it to my attention.

“Guess what, Joe? You and I are the only ones with brown eyes!”

“You love books just as much as me.”

You always wanted to make me feel welcomed into your home. You wanted to make sure that I always felt wanted. You always made sure that I was loved.

You were the first to ask me for hugs.

You were the first to ask me for kisses.

You were the quickest to show just how much you love me.

You never knew this man from before. You didn’t know his incredible wealth of sin from a lifetime ago. You never knew the darkest and deepest pain that has injured his soul.

All you saw was me. You saw me and you accepted me. You accepted me and you wanted to know me. You wanted to know me and you loved me. I could thank you a million times over and I still would never thank you enough for your sweet love.

I never have known a prettier little girl. I have never met a smarter person. Yet, your charms and smarts are nothing compared to the bold and audacious love that you give to God and that you have given me.

I love you, Emma. I praise and thank God that he made you. I love you. Now and forever, I do.

 

From your brown-eyed, book lovin’stepdad,

Joooooeeeeeee

Love Letter: Grace

gracie-ballerinaMy strongest Grace,

Your love is tremendous. I love the way you adore others. I love that you are always thoughtful of me. Every time you say goodbye, you always give me a hug. For that love, thank you.

After you go off to sleep, your mom and I stay up and talk about our children—all of the hopes and dreams that we have for you kids. I love it when we get to talk about you because I love bragging on you. I love getting to witness how much you have grown physically as well as mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In fact, your own growth has challenged my growth as well.

For all of that and so much more, I praise and thank God for you.

When I see you, I see incredible resilience. When I see you, I see strength and power. Seeing you filled with the love and strength of the Almighty God, I can fathom how the gates of hell shall not prevail against His beautiful Bride.

When I hear you, I sense that you are a leader. You are leader who able to pull her people through the thick and thin. You call for attention for those around you. You are asking that people keep their eyes on you so that they understand what you are saying. You will inspire people to do great and marvelous things.

When I am near you, I know that you would not hesitate to lay your life down for those whom you love. I see you are incredible mindful of loved ones, and continue to try to give to others so that they know what it means to be loved and to have joy. For all of your toughness, your love is super tender, sweet, kind and gentle.

These words may be too much for you to understand them now.  But the words I write right now are the things I see in your life and I write them down so that your joy may be full in Him.

Always remember, I am speaking what truths I see in your life. But never think for one moment that you always have to be strong. Even you cannot continuously bear that impossible weight of glory. However, God, who is the Almighty, can and will bear the heaviest of your burdens. When you are weak, he will be your strength. Trust in Him alone and you will never know strength like His strength. In other words, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his infinite might.

You are an amazing little girl. And I get a front row seat just to see you grow up to be an amazing, beautiful woman of God. It is my joy, honor, privilege, and blessing to know you, to love you, and to get to help grow you, all for the glory of His great name.

I love you, little girl. I love you, my strongest Grace. Forever and always.

 

From your giant step-daddy,

Jo-Jo

Love Letter: Elijah

elijah-smiling-in-stripes-times-4My sweet Elijah,

Before you were born, I would look at your beautiful, gorgeous mom and I would look  at myself and kept thinking, “What is Elijah going to look like?” Most of all, what is Elijah going to be like—as a baby, a toddler, a kid, a teenager, an adult and even an old man. I was so curious about your life and all the possibilities therein.

I know this much to be true: I loved you. I loved you so much. I had my mind made up. I had my heart turned to you. And everything that I did in my life was done so that I could have that wonderful chance of pouring out my love on you.

I love you, buddy. Do you know that? I love you and I will always love you. You can’t do anything to cause me to love you less. In fact, when I get to know you more, I love you more. And I know you more and more as the days go on. That can only mean I love you more as the days go on.

You were born in a very special time of my life. Before you were born, I didn’t know or love God. In fact, your brother, Yusef, was born when I was dead in my trespasses and at war with Him. I look back at my life as I didn’t love God, didn’t love others well, and I certainly did not love or raise your brother well.

But by God’s grace alone, He saved me. He took out my old stony, crap-filled heart and gave me his soft, tender heart. He pulled the darkness out of my mind and now, my mind truly knows Him. He called out to me in the midst of my dying and death and gave me His life.

In other words, you are the first child that God has given me since being saved by Him. Because of that, I not only see your life but your life in all of eternity. I see you clearly because God has given me eyes to see. I hear you because God has given me ears to hear. I love you because God has given me his soft, tender heart of love.

I look into your beautiful dark blue eyes and cry with joy for the good things God has done in us.

I love you, little boy. You are my baby boy. And all of God’s grace, goodness, wisdom, and strength alone, I will raise you up and see you to become a lover of God.

I love you. For now and always, I love you.

 

From your spoiling Daddy,

Joseph